Welcome to the last post in this mentor teacher tips series! So far, we’ve talked about what a mentor teacher is and isn’t, how to develop the mentor teacher-new teacher relationship, and what you might actually do as a mentor teacher. Hopefully you’ve found a few good tips along the way!
Now, let’s get real for a minute. Many teachers go through a tough period sometime during the school year. It might be during the long stretch between winter break and spring break. It might hit as testing season approaches. For new teachers, it might happen much sooner in the school year. A lot of the first year is just about being in survival mode. There’s so many ups and downs, and as the mentor teacher, there’s a lot you can do to help increase a new teacher’s morale when it starts getting low.
So what are some ways you can help support a beginning teacher who is feeling the weight of the job?
Tip 1: Be someone your mentee can come to. Having a respectful, trusting relationship is SO important when it comes to supporting a new teacher. Like any relationship, just having someone to talk to about a problem can make a major difference. Your mentee will feel supported knowing that he/she has someone who will listen, empathize, and help find solutions.
Tip 2: Be observant. If you listen to and watch the new teacher, you’ll likely notice when the work starts taking its toll. (Or maybe the new teacher hides it well and you don’t see any signs at all.) If you see signs of burnout, intervene early. Take steps to let the new teacher know he/she is not alone.
Tip 3: Help the mentee find solutions. You’re not there to be the fix-it-all expert, but your years of experience in the classroom are a real asset to someone struggling to figure it all out. Ask questions and provide suggestions to help the new teacher deal with the major struggles. If you see something happening that you know is going to cause stress or end badly, speak up.
Tip 4: Perform some random acts of kindness. (This might be my favorite tip). This probably isn’t in the job description, but finding little ways to support the beginning teacher can really make him/her feel encouraged and connected. RAKs are especially fun to do during the first week of school, report card time, principal evaluations, and long stretches between breaks. You can do it without breaking the bank! Some ideas:
- leave positive notes on his/her desk
- bring him/her a small treat to eat or drink
- give him/her a copy of one of your favorite read-alouds
- share the great things he/she is doing with your administrator
- send him/her an email appointment for something fun
- make sure his/her room parents know when his/her birthday is
- set up a potluck lunch with the rest of the team
- save him/her a seat at staff meetings
- check on your mentee during a parent-teacher conference he/she is worried about (if it’s going long, you can knock on the door with a reminder about that meeting that’s starting in 5 minutes)
Tip 5: Take a time out. Encourage your mentee to take a break! Easier said than done, but we all need to hit the reset button once in a while. Order lunch in and sit outside to eat, volunteer to make some copies so he/she can leave before dark, or make plans for Friday happy hour! Talk about something else besides teaching!
Tip 6: Take a time in. Support the beginning teacher by spending a little more time together. You might plan next week’s lessons, grade assessments, grab materials from the reading room or library, cut out lamination while you watch something on Netflix, etc.
Tip 7: Celebrate the little things. Sometimes you just have to throw your lesson plans in the air and embrace the chaos! Help your mentee find the humor and the joy in the little things. Encourage the new teacher to recognize and celebrate what is going well!
Tip 8: Ask for help. You have a big role in the new teacher’s first year, but you aren’t the only part of the support system. If you see that the new teacher is having a hard time, and especially if you’re out of ideas, reach out for help from the grade-level team, your lead mentor teacher, or your administrator. Remind the new teacher that everyone is on his/her side, and we are all here to help.
Thinking back to your first year of teaching and what helped you get through it when you were feeling down can go a long way toward being the kind of mentor teacher you want to be. Your mentee will really appreciate the little things you do to help him/her make it through the first year!
If you’ve stuck with me through these four posts, thank you! And thank you for agreeing to serve as a mentor teacher to a first year teacher. It’s an important role, and one that I hope you love!
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